Open Menu Close Menu

IT Trends

Educause Top 10 IT Issues: Digital Transformation Accelerated

Business team drawing a new complex project

When Educause unveiled its members' selection of the Top 10 IT issues for 2022 at its annual meeting in Philadelphia last week, it was no surprise that the list reflected two years of upheaval and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. But Susan Grajek, Educause's vice president of partnerships, communities and research, chose to accentuate the positive aspects of digital transformation that colleges and universities are accelerating to meet the changing needs of students.

Creating the higher education we deserve, Grajek said, begins with developing a shared transformational vision and strategy that guides the institution's digital transformation work. "The ultimate aim is an institution with a technology-enabled sustainable business model that has redefined 'the campus,' operates efficiently and anticipates and addresses major new risks," she said. "The path from vision to sustainability is by recognizing that no institution can be successful and sustainable without placing students' success at the center, which includes understanding how and why to equitably incorporate technology into learning and the student experience."

Of course, Grajek's emphasis on addressing major new risks included cybersecurity, which is Educause's No. 1 issue in its Top 10 report. "The higher education we deserve needs to be able to operate efficiently and manage risk effectively," she said. "Cybersecurity threats are increasing globally and becoming more difficult for users to recognize." One incident can cause the loss of educational opportunities for students, as well as financial and reputational issues for the campus. As technology provides more of the foundation upon which higher education institutions conduct core operations, it becomes business-critical to build processes, controls and training that ensure continuity of access and ongoing integrity of the underlying IT products, she added.

The Educause Top 10 Issues report noted that as cybersecurity becomes more expensive and challenging, "institutions that collaborate to manage cybersecurity collectively can share costs and expertise, both reducing the burden on individual institutions and increasing the level and effectiveness of cybersecurity at institutions of all sizes." As an example, it pointed to the North Dakota University System, which is partnering across its institutions and with the State of North Dakota to work with supplier partners to introduce programs that will benefit all.

Under the scary label "Evolve or Become Extinct," issue No. 2 stressed that digital transformation is no longer optional if institutions are going to survive. The Educause report noted that while COVID has accelerated digital transformation, "often institutions' COVID approaches have been necessarily rushed and tactical, resulting in fixes that may not scale or have applicability beyond the pandemic. Institutional leaders will need to create a comprehensive strategic plan with elements that can be prioritized and addressed incrementally to balance limited energy and resources with lasting, meaningful outcomes."

Issue No. 3 involvedlearning from COVID-19 to build a better future. As digital became the default way to learn, it caused even the most tech-adverse faculty to adopt digital tools. But as they pivot back to on-campus instruction, they have to re-evaluate how they will integrate technology and use the skills they acquired, Grajek said. Campuses will need to invest more in teaching and learning support staff and in instructional design so they can experiment with technology.

In a video clip played during Grajek's presentation, Wendy Athens, senior director of teaching and learning at Utah Valley University, said that in planning hybrid delivery, her organization has been doing more tech training for instructors and creating more digital content than ever before. It makes sense, then, that ensuring faculty have the digital fluency to creatively engage with students was Issue No. 4, and the "Digital or Brick-and-Mortar Balancing Game" was Issue No. 5. As the report noted, the "digital campus will become as important as the brick-and-mortar campus. They will coexist at many institutions, forcing leaders to consider what can be done only on campus and what can be done virtually."

Turning from the faculty's digital fluency to the student perspective, Issue No. 6 focused on achieving full digital access for students by investing in connectivity, tools, and skills. Bridging the digital divide is about more than access to reliable high-speed internet, Grajek noted. "Students also need equitable access to devices, software and the skills required to be able to be successful students, and later thrive," she said, adding that higher education leaders have a pivotal role to play in reimagining what equity is.

Many institutions are developing a value proposition to serve students across regions, countries, and the globe. Issue No. 7 involved how these leaders are expanding their approaches to digital equity to encompass not only equitable access to connectivity and devices, but also equitable access to learning spaces, the Educause report noted. "The new infrastructure needs to encompass digital experiences and interactions with the institution, and deliver them as seamlessly and intuitively as, yes, Amazon," the report states. In a video appearance, Steve Burrell, vice president of IT and CIO at Northern Arizona University, described the importance of supporting teaching and learning from anywhere, which is driving investments to make access to education more ubiquitous. "We have to be honest with ourselves," he said. If there is retrenchment and campus leaders argue that face-to-face instruction is the most efficient, he said, "the market is going to inform us otherwise."

Issue No. 8 was a more traditional technology topic that could have been on this list five years ago: weathering the shift to the cloud. Cloud services free up existing resources and scale up and down so that institutions only have to pay for what they use, Grajek said, but universities need to make sure they have a cohesive strategy across departments for managing risk. What is new this year is the rapid uptake of online learning and remote work. In response to the pandemic, "the need to maintain business continuity prevailed over the need for planning and risk mitigation through appropriate cloud contract terms," the report noted. "The consequences may need to be addressed in 2022."

Issue No. 9, which asked whether we can learn from a crisis, focused on creating an actionable disaster preparation plan to capitalize on pandemic-related cultural change and investments.

Grajek noted that although campuses had disaster recovery plans in place, most hadn't rehearsed the plan and didn't have a pandemic as a scenario. Many found their plans were insufficient and had to invest in new policies. "The pandemic also showed whether institutions have strong relationships with solution providers, because those institutions are able to quickly negotiate affordable additional services and accommodations," she added. In 2022, institutions will have to take lessons learned during the pandemic and repurpose them for an ever-changing environment, including responding to the impact of climate change.

Finally, issue No. 10 called for "radical creativity" in helping students prepare for the future by giving them tools and learning spaces that foster creative practices and collaborations. Grajek said that could include maker spaces, cross-disciplinary projects, internships and entrepreneurial activities. The report noted, however, that institutional leaders "will need to encourage and reward collaborations across departmental and even institutional boundaries to enable faculty to broaden the range of learning opportunities that they offer to students."

Grajek closed by saying that institutions should not necessarily feel tied to traditional ways of doing things. "We have a greater debt to the future than we do to the past," she said. "Our learners need us to prepare them for the future, not the past. We owe it to every student aspiring to attain a degree as the basis for a better life to help them do just that."

The full report is available on the Educause site.

Educause Top 10 IT Issues 2022

  1. Cyber Everywhere! Are We Prepared?
  2. Evolve or Become Extinct
  3. Digital Faculty for a Digital Future
  4. Learning from COVID-19 to Build a Better Future
  5. The Digital versus Brick-and-Mortar Balancing Game
  6. From Digital Scarcity to Digital Abundance
  7. The Shrinking World of Higher Education or an Expanded Opportunity?
  8. Weathering the Shift to the Cloud
  9. Can We Learn from a Crisis?
  10. Radical Creativity
comments powered by Disqus